Johnson says ‘public should decide’ on next steps

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Boris Johnson PMQs
Boris Johnson

MPs are debating legislation which would require the UK government to ask for a further delay to brexit if a new deal is not agreed.

Introducing the EU Withdrawal (No. 6) Bill, which seeks to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal in October, Labour MP Hilary Benn said: “I think wherever we stand on this issue, we know there is very little time left and, following the decision on prorogation, there is even less time than would have been available previously.”

Mr Benn (Leeds Central) noted strong feelings on both sides in the Chamber, and appealed to MPs to “treat each other with respect” during the debate.

He added: “The purpose of the Bill is very simple. It is to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on October 31 without an agreement.”

He said the Bill has “wide cross-party support”, including from former senior Cabinet members.

Mr Benn added: “You could describe it as a somewhat unlikely alliance, but what unites us is a conviction that there is no mandate for no-deal, and that the consequences for the economy and for our country would be highly damaging.”

Meanwhile Downing Street has rejected suggestions Boris Johnson will resign to trigger a general election in a bid to block efforts to delay Brexit.

The Prime Minister has hinted Jeremy Corbyn is running scared from the ballot box after the Labour leader made clear he would not back a poll until a no-deal exit was taken off the table.

A Downing Street spokesman said the PM will not resign to force the country to head to the polls if the Government loses the Commons vote, telling a Westminster briefing: “He’s not going to step down. He wants an election.

“We will find a way to deliver on what the British people want, which is to deliver Brexit by October 31.

“If the PM cannot get the Bill through Parliament because Parliament is determined to wreck the negotiations, the only other option then is a general election.”

The spokesman refused to say what steps the Government would take to secure a general election if it loses a vote on calling a ballot, but said Mr Johnson believes going back to the public is the only option if Parliament votes to delay Brexit.

Mr Benn said: “The Prime Minister’s made it absolutely clear that he is prepared to leave on 31st October without a deal, and those of us who I hope will support the Bill today do not wish that to happen.”

He added: “We cannot continue to delay taking a decision… the Bill is deliberately open as to the purpose of the extension so it provides a framework for reporting and debate and it is supported as I’ve just pointed out by (MPs) who have already voted for a deal and would vote for one again.

“And I would just say it’s very important that we focus on the principal purpose which is to prevent a no-deal Brexit and to keep the coalition that shares that view together.”

He went on: “We must in my opinion secure that extension to Article 50 otherwise there is a risk that the election would result in us leaving without a deal, which as it may turn out at 7 o’clock tonight is not what the House of Commons wants and we should respect that.”

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